Perhaps it's the Victorian filigree of the venue, but there's something decadent about this evening's performance. Not decadent in the drugs-and-self-destruction way, but in a fin-de-siecle sense – a feeling that we're at the peak of some cultural swing.

Then again, perhaps it's just my perspective as someone who spent a decade going to gigs with moshpits and clubs full of bugged-out eyes and flailing limbs. Whatever the cause, it feels strange to be stood with a hundred handfuls of people who are facing a stage and doing little more than listening very closely.

Opening act Eluvium demands this sort of attention, because otherwise you'd miss what's going on entirely. Eluvium is one man hunkered down behind a keyboard, a small mixer and a laptop. He arrived with no ceremony, and engages in no ceremony during his set. He simply picks up a guitar, turns a few dials, and starts plucking out a simple lullaby mantra.

It's not until about sixteen bars have passed that you realise the sound is mutating slightly, thickening out, gaining thin layers of complexity that accrete like coats of paint on an ageing beach-hut – time being rendered as depth and colour with the steady yet glacial pace of evolution itself.

Fittingly enough given our seaside location, Eluvium's music is aquatic, viscous and fluid. With the exception of one song - a minimalist piano sketch of stark gappy figures that sounds like a ghost haunting a mansion music-room – each piece follows the same essential pattern. The initial loop repeats and grows steadily until, by the end, we're caught in the eye of a staggering typhoon of sound that seems completely unrelated to the delicate beginnings. His final song complete, the man who is Eluvium stands up and wanders off to respectful applause. It's great stuff, provided you've developed a taste for music that is aimed for the ear more than the feet.

Which means, of course, that he was an ideal support act for Explosions In The Sky. Four very normal-looking guys take the stage, one settling himself behind the drumkit while the other three tool up with battered and obviously much-used (and much-loved) guitars. After what is arguably the most self-effacing introduction I've ever heard from a band that actually bothered to introduce itself, the Texan foursome launch into their set.

I can take a short-cut here, by saying that those of you familiar with Explosions In The Sky on record will have a pretty good idea of what they sound like in a live situation. The music works well in the concert setting, with only the bottom end feeling any different thanks to the economies of scale of amplification – in other words, you can't buy a home stereo that will push the amount of air a good PA does, and hence you'll never be able to reproduce this wash of sound, punctuated with the firm but gentle pummelling of kick drum and bass guitar (on the occasions that the band actually deploy the latter). Even the quiet moments are loud.

The rest of the experience is faithful: a series of adventures in light and shade and space, beautiful chunks of atmosphere - slices of sky for you to fly through, eyes squeezed shut. If Eluvium was like sound made liquid, then Explosions In The Sky are like drowning in light. The changing moods of their music are like weather systems, with sudden squalls and rainstorms giving way to epiphanies of colour and warmth like the sun searing through the clouds.

So much for metaphor – let me attempt a more clinical description. The drumming of Chris Hrasky is very focused on the snare, with simple but precise quasi-martial tattoos, varying in attack from full rock clatter to jazzy pitter-patter and staccato rim-shots, which over the course of a lengthy passage become as much a texture as a rhythm, like the brushing of wind-blown tree branches against a roof or the hiss of sand on a tide-swept beach.

Soaring over Hrasky's beats are the afore-mentioned guitars and occasional bass. The chiming and plinking riffs and arpeggios weave into one another, creating interlocking melodies that become harmonies and then change back again as part of a huge organic jungle of sound, lush and inviting

It's not uncommon to hear Explosions In The Sky described as a post-rock band, and their non-metallic sound has a large part to play in justifying that. The band themselves reject the label, however, claiming to be more of a straight-up rock act, as they focus more on immediacy and hooks than ambience and soundscaping. I'm inclined to put it down as a very happy medium between the two, with the approachable atmospheric textures of post-rock married to the riffs and dynamics of its more brash cousin.

Watching them perform, it's plain to see where the passion comes from; up on stage, the band are completely consumed by their music, so deep inside that they're contiguous with it, sweating, smiling and swaying through the set. They're literally lost in the pocket universe they've created, swept in a rapture that trumps anything the evangelists have ever told me about. When they kneel down to twiddle dials on effects pedals, it feels like they're genuflecting in deference to the audience, offering up their work for consideration.

And while there is certainly a visceral component to it, the music of Explosions In The Sky is very cerebral, too – music for the mind. A few tunes into this evening's set, it was like someone had opened a window inside my head – and for the rest of the show a fresh sea breeze blows the cobwebs from my mind. The effect lasts long after the band set down their instruments after seventy minutes and bid us all a cheery good night, and I find myself wondering if Explosions In The Sky should be made available on prescription for people prone to the winter blues. Their detractors might describe them as one-trick ponies, and perhaps they are – but it's a trick that I'd pay good money to see performed over and over again.











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Commenting On: Concorde 2, Brighton, 23/1/2008 - Explosions in the Sky and Eluvium








ie London, England

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